About Our Guest Author:
Jonas Sickler is an expert in crisis communications and online reputation management. His advice has been featured in over 60 publications, including Forbes, Washington Post, CNBC, The Street, U.S. News, and Business News Daily. Follow along on Twitter.
The internet has become the primary touchpoint for most car buyers, so online reviews have a massive impact on purchasing behavior. As many as 59% of auto shoppers will only consider dealerships with a good reputation.
Fortunately, the car buying experience has vastly improved in recent years as dealers continue to prioritize customer service. Yet, automotive dealerships are facing a reputation crisis. According to V12DATA, 99% of auto shoppers expect a hassle when buying a vehicle. These discrepancies are most likely the result of fraudulent reviews paid for and written by competitors.
Fake reviews aren’t always negative, though. Dealers have historically fabricated positive reviews to boost their own company’s reputation—which violates the TOS of all review sites. But after seeing the power of fake reviews, shady businesses opted to weaponize them against competitors. Not only are these reputation attacks infuriating, but they can cripple dealership revenue.
Cost of Fake Negative Reviews
Let’s pull some numbers from 2017 to see how fake reviews affect dealer revenue. As many as 95% of car buyers start their search online, and almost 60% of them prefer companies with a good reputation. Therefore, dealers with any negative online reviews in 2017 could have lost half their potential customers.
Dealerships sold approximately 1,045 new vehicles last year, and each sale earned them about $2,100, so dealerships profited nearly $2.2 million in 2017. But if your company had several fake negative reviews, your revenue could have dropped to $1.1 million.
Unfortunately, many businesses blame losses on their sales team rather than their competitors.
How to Handle a Fake Review Crisis
When profits are cut in half because of a competitor attack on your reputation, that’s the definition of a crisis. However, as tempting as it may be to lash out when you’ve been targeted by these underhanded tactics, it’s important to remain calm. Some negative reviews could be legitimate, and an accusatory response could damage to your reputation even more than the review. Use these pro tips to help manage a fake review crisis.
Tips to Identify Fake Reviews
First of all, you’ll need to get organized. Ideally, you should keep a record of every online review mentioning your business. I recommend using a spreadsheet for this. Start by creating columns for the following information: website URL, review text, review type, review date, and notes.
Next, categorize each and every review as positive, neutral or negative to make sorting easier. Then, fill in the notes column with any details about the incidents.
Finally, open and read each critique while looking for the following telltale signs of fake reviews:
- Lack of detail — If someone has never been to your dealership, their review may be full of generalizations like “rude and dishonest salespeople,” or “service took forever.” When writers don’t mention any names or specific details, the review might be fake.
- More first-person pronouns — In an attempt to sound more sincere, deceptive reviewers tend to use words like “I” and “me” more often. Objective reviews are more frequently written in the 3rd person.
- More verbs than nouns — When asked to recall real events, people remember physical things they saw. However, when we lie about events, we often describe actions which are less visual and easier to fabricate.
- Frequency of posting — All businesses make mistakes, so your company is likely to receive a poor review eventually. However, if you discover a surge of bad reviews within a short period of time, you either have a customer service crisis, or you’re the victim of a competitor attack.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming all bad reviews must be false. It’s crucial that you remain open-minded while reading all of your reviews. If criticism is legitimate, use this as an opportunity to correct any issues in your dealership. If you’re too biased to accurately classify reviews, perhaps you should seek the help of another employee.
Reporting Fake Reviews
Once you’ve identified fake reviews, you’ll need to prove your case. Most review sites won’t remove complaints without thorough proof that they’re fraudulent. Still, you should always report fake reviews on any site because website owners take them very seriously. If you gather enough evidence to support your claims, they may be willing to help. This could include sales records, reviewer location, and even email exchanges.
Responding to Fake Reviews
While removing false reviews is your best option, sometimes this isn’t possible. For example, Ripoff Report won’t budge on their policy to take down derogatory posts. If you do respond, it’s critical to choose your words carefully to avoid making things worse. Attempt to clarify the situation for other readers without coming across as hostile.
- Wait it out — Don’t immediately reply to a fake review that was just written because this may signal to Google that the page is relevant. Instead, wait to see if it subsides in your search results before responding.
- When in doubt — Clearly state that you take these situations seriously, but you have no record of the reviewer or an incident that matches their complaint, and offer to resolve the problem offline. This will cause readers to question the validity of the claim while demonstrating your willingness to fix any issues.
- Fact beats fiction — If the customer seems to be embellishing the situation, you should attempt to correct the statement professionally. A level-headed response with bullet points about what really happened will be seen as more trustworthy.
- Respond for the readers — It’s unlikely that the individual who wrote the fake review will never read your response. Therefore you should reply in a way that you want potential readers to see your company.
Bad reviews are infuriating and costly for auto dealers— especially when you don’t deserve them. Fortunately, taking action in the right way can put you on the path to recovery.
To recap, continue to monitor and record all online reviews about your business. Become an expert at spotting false or inaccurate criticism. And always respond with the reader in mind to showcase your reputation for handling customer complaints.